Neftekhimik grabbed an important victory over Amur in this clash between two playoff contenders. The pair started the day locked on 37 points and tying for ninth place in the East, but 35 save from Frans Tuohimaa helped the visitor to get the jump on the Tigers.
For Amur, this was a second game since the international break. The first ended in a 0-1 loss to Admiral after giving up an early goal. Today, the Tigers fell behind even earlier, with Evgeny Mityakin opening the scoring after 10 seconds. It could have been worse for Amur, which made a poor start to the game and enabled Neftekhimik to grab the initiative and threaten more goals.
Gradually, though, the home team came back into contention only to find Tuohimaa in impressive form. A strong stick save denied Amur a power play goal in one of the highlights of the first period and as the game moved into its second session the home team’s frustrations began to turn into penalties. Moments before the second intermission, Slava Leshchenko marked his Neftekhimik debut with a power play goal which proved to be the game-winner.
Tuohimaa kept busy in the third period, but the Finn kept Amur at bay until the 58th minute when Alexander Gorshkov’s goal gave the home team some hope at last. But Neftekhimik would not be denied and Marat Khairullin found the empty net to seal the deal for the visitor.
Alexander Volkov got his first KHL goal to set SKA on the road to victory over CSKA in the Army Derby. Volkov, 24, graduated through Petersburg’s system before he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2017 and crossed the Atlantic to join the Lightning organization that summer. He spent four seasons in North America, mostly in the AHL, and was a fringe player in the 2020 Stanley Cup-winning team. In October he returned home to SKA on a long-term contract and today he got his first goal in the league.
It came midway through the second period when Valentin Zykov — another player back in Russia this season after several years on the bubble in North America — set off a counter attack. Volkov advanced down the right and, when John Gilmour hesitated, the forward used the opportunity to fire a shot beyond Ivan Fedotov.
That broke the deadlock in a typically tight battle between two of the West’s leading teams and SKA quickly underlined its ascendancy with a second goal from Danila Moiseyev. The home team continued to press for the remainder of the middle frame and almost grabbed a third when Nikita Gusev dinged the piping late in the session.
CSKA needed a big response in the third period and the visitor got the perfect start when Sergei Plotnikov, one of many players facing a former club today, won possession behind the net and got the puck back to the slot. Lars Johansson, once of CSKA, denied former SKA man Vladislav Kamenev, but could not stop Konstantin Okulov from burying the rebound. Midway through the session, Pavel Karnaukhov’s persistence brought a tying goal for the visitor.
CSKA’s comeback earned it a point, but SKA took the verdict in overtime. On a day dominated by talk of the upcoming Olympics, one of the heroes of PyeongChang, Nikita Gusev, grabbed the winner when he shot home from between the hash marks after visiting goalie Fedotov lost his stick. SKA goes two points clear at the top of the Western Conference, CSKA drops to third behind Jokerit.
Wednesday’s news that NHL will not be sending its players to the upcoming Olympics transformed this KHL game into something of a try-out for Team Finland hopefuls. Suddenly, the likes of Spartak’s Jori Lehtera — who went to the Games in 2014 while playing for Sibir — and Salavat Yulaev’s goal-getting trio of Granlund, Hartikainen and Manninen are all prime contenders for a place on the Leijonat’s line-up.
Today, several of them played a part in an entertaining clash at Spartak. First, Lehtera grabbed the opening goal after working a neat combination with Alexander Khokhlachyov and angling home a one-timer from the right-hand circle. That goal separated the teams until late in the second period, when a Salavat Yulaev power play saw Sakari Manninen among the assists as Teemu Hartikainen tied the scores.
Young Russian prospect Rodion Amirov is probably a man to look out for a future Olympics — 2022 may come too soon for a talent still finding his feet in the senior game. But the 20-year-old is back in Russia after being loaned back to Ufa by Toronto and he grabbed his first goal of the season to put Salavat Yulaev in front in the third period. That lead was short-lived, though, with Lehtera finding a helper as Jakub Jerabek — a contender for the Czech blue line in China — fired home the equalizer.
That took us to overtime, and both teams failed with power play chances. Ufa went first, with Spartak’s Alexander Bryntsev carrying a high sticks penalty over from regulation time. Then Viktor Tikhonov was called for tripping, giving the home team a chance to finish the game with a man advantage. However, there were no goals and we went to a shoot-out. Manninen converted a clutch attempt for Salavat, saving his team from defeat when he converted the fifth shot, but Spartak took the sudden death verdict thanks to Maxim Tsyplakov.